neilson rugby uvic

Files from Rugby Canada (Matt Tidcombe)

The University of Victoria Vikes women’s rugby team will be well represented with two current and one former Vike suiting up with the Canadian Maple Leafs on an England tour in early December. Senior Canadian women’s rugby head coach Francois Ratier has named a squad of 24 players for Canada’s Maple Leafs tour to England next month. Current Vikes Jess Neilson andGabrielle Senft will suit up for the Vikes, while former Vike Chelsey Minter has also cracked the roster. Current Vike Nicole Crowley will travel with the group as the team manager.

Neilson and Senft recently helped the Vikes women’s rugby program capture the program’s first-ever Canada West title after a semifinal win over Alberta and final win over Lethbridge. Neilson was named the conference MVP and a Canada West All-Star, while Senft was given Rookie of the Year honours. The Vikes are set to compete at the CIS Championship for the first time since hosting in 2005 next week, Nov. 5-8, in Hamilton, Ont. Soon after the Maples Leafs will depart for their England tour.

The Maple Leafs will play two games against England A which is a side made up of the countries best academy players. The games will take place on December 1st and 5th at Esher Rugby Club. Kickoff times have yet to be announced.

“Our goal is still to give more playing time to young players and players who performed last summer with their Provinces or in our camps last spring,” Ratier said. “Playing quality rugby is really important for these players as we play less rugby than the European sides.

“We want to improve our contact skills, our defence under pressure and push the players beyond their limits and the weather in England will be perfect for that. This tour will show us who has guts and who wants to win a spot in the national team this year and beyond.”

The squad has 14 new call-ups but possesses some experience from this past summer’s Women’s Rugby Super Series that was held in Alberta. Cindy Nelles will captain the side while DeLeaka Menin, Camile Provençal-Aube, Emma Taylor, Tyson Beukeboom, Lori Josephson, Chelsea Guthrie, Jess Nielson, Natasha Smith and Alex Tessier all return too. Tiffany Picketts and Julia Folk are unavailable due to injury.

Eleven players on the team have represented Canada at the U20 level in the last three years while others have come from the CIS and NWL. All 24 players have been involved in different camps in the last 12 months.

“Being named captain on this tour is going to be an incredible honour and an excellent experience,” Nelles said. “I have had experience in the past acting as captain for the Storm and at McMaster which I hope has prepared me well for this opportunity. I am really looking forward to working with the coaching staff in more of a leadership roll and having the chance to help other players develop to be at the national level.”

The women’s fifteens program recently underwent a shift that better allows Ratier, along with women’s U20 and U18 head coaches Jen Boyd and Dan Valley respectively, to work closer together to develop players for the next Women’s Rugby World Cup that takes place in 2017 in Ireland. Additionally, every player has been on a fitness program since September that is monitored by strength and conditioning coach Jamie McCartney.

“We need better depth in terms of numbers but also quality than we’ve had in the past and after the test matches next summer and the Olympics we want to have a very strong and consistent top 40 players to prepare the World Cup,” Ratier said. “They know what our expectations are and what it takes to reach the next step.”

“I think that overall this is a fairly young team and this tour will be a great chance to come together as a unit and to bring more players the experience needed to jump to the senior level,” Nelles said. “There is just enough experience that this team will have the very similar goals and mentality as the senior women’s team but this tour, unlike past tours, will have a greater emphasis on development.

“Regardless of experience level, I expect an enthusiastic team that is driven to make improvements and develop their skills and game sense.”

Both games will be streamed LIVE with streaming details to follow in the coming weeks.

Canada’s Maple Leafs Roster (Name, club, hometown):
Tyson Beukeboom (Aurora Barbarians) Uxbridge, ON
Fabiola Forteza (Club de Rugby de Quebec) Quebec, QC
Chelsea Guthrie (Stratchona Druids) Edmonton, AB
Janai Haupapa, Calgary, AB
Mackenzie Higgs (Aurora Barbarians) Aurora, ON
Emmanuela Jada (Guelph Redcoats) Guelph, ON
Lori Josephson (Aurora Barbarians) Beaverton, ON
DaLeaka Menin (Hornets) Vulcan, AB
Chelsey Minter (Velox Valkyries) Sidney, NS
Jess Neilson (UVic) Vancouver, BC
Cindy Nelles, captain (Belleville Bulldogs) Belleville, ON
Irene Patrinos (Hull Volant), Mississauga, ON
Brittany Priddle, Badjeros, ON
Camile Provençal-Aube (Abénakis et CRQ), Sherbrooke, QC
Frédérique Rajotte (Sainte Anne de Bellevue RFC) Sainte Anne de Bellevue, QC
Kristy Sargent (Lep Tigers) Edmonton, AB
Simone Savary (Ottawa Gees Gees), Brampton, ON
Gabrielle Senft (UVic) Regina, SK
Natasha Smith (Barrhaven Scottish) Ottawa, ON
Demi Stamatakis (SFU) Vancouver, BC
Katie Svoboda (Belleville Bulldogs) Belleville, ON
Emma Taylor, Halifax, NS
Alex Tessier (Montreal Barbarians) Sainte-Clotilde-de-Horton, QC
Amanda Williams (Calgary Hornets) Souris, AB

Coaching Staff:
Head coach – Francois Ratier
Forwards coach – Shaun Allen
Scrum coach – John Lavery
Video analyst – James Kent
Therapist – Nicole Ainsworth
Manager – Nicole Crowley

Senior Women’s Maple Leafs Schedule:

Dec. 1 – Canada Maple Leafs vs. England A
Dec. 5 – Canada Maple Leafs vs. England A